Pope Institutes New Commission on Protecting Minors from Abuse

Last December, Pope Francis announced that he wanted to set up a special commission for the protection of minors in the Church.

Today he instituted the new body, called the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and appointed the following to be a part of it:

Dr. Catherine Bonnet (France)

Mrs. Marie Collins (Ireland)

Prof. the Baroness Sheila Hollins (United Kingdom)

Card. Sean Patrick O’Malley, OFM Cap (U.S.)

Prof. Claudio Papale (Italy)

Her Excellency Hanna Suchocka (Poland)

Rev. Humberto Miguel Yañez, SJ (Argentina)

Rev. Hans Zollner, SJ (Germany)

The Vatican says their principal role will be to prepare the Statutes of the Commission, which will define its tasks and competencies. “Other members will be added to the Commission in the future, chosen from various geographical areas of the world,” it added.

The commission members come from a wide variety of backgrounds; Marie Collins is, herself, a victim of abuse. 

Abused as a child in the 1960s, she brought the priest who abused her to justice in 1997. She has campaigned actively for the protection of children, justice for survivors of clerical sexual abuse, and for a better understanding of the effects of sexual abuse on children. Collins has won awards, helped found a depression support group in her native Ireland, and assisted her archdiocese to set up their Child Protection Service.

Born in Dublin, Collins is a founder Trustee of the Marie Collins Foundation, a UK NGO dedicated to the needs of children, young people and their families for whom sexual abuse and harm has arisen via the internet and mobile technologies.

Regarding the other members: Professor Baroness Hollins is a specialist in mental health and has particular expertise in bereavement, palliative care and sexual abuse.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the Archbishop of Boston, is well-known for his extensive efforts for the protection of children and was one of the Visitators for the Apostolic Visitation of dioceses and seminaries in Ireland (2010).

Claudio Papale is an official of the Disciplinary Section of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Hanna Suchocka is a Polish specialist in Constitutional Law, and author of numerous papers and scientific articles on themes regarding human rights.

Humberto Miguel Yáñez, SJ, from Argentina, is Director of the Department of Moral Theology at the Gregorian University and was a member of the Theology Group that organized the Symposium on the Sexual Abuse of Minors "Towards Healing and Renewal" that was held at the Gregorian University two years ago.

As a Jesuit scholastic, Fr. Yáñez was formed by Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was then rector of the Colegio Maximo of San Miguel. Fr. Yáñez also worked in the parish of San José were he served as founding pastor with a special concern for pastoral programs for young people.

Professor Hans Zollner, SJ, is director of the Institute of Psychology, and Chair of the Steering Committee of the "Centre for Child Protection" of the Institute of Psychology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Father Zollner was Chair of the organizing committee of the Symposium "Towards Healing and Renewal" on sexual abuse of minors which was held at Gregorian University in February 2012.

Upholding Sacred Responsibility

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, issued the following statement this afternoon about the new commission:

“As Blessed John Paul II declared, "People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young…. So much pain, so much sorrow must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church" (Address of John Paul II to the Cardinals of the United States, 23 April 2002). In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, as we commit ourselves to the safeguarding of minors, we need "to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected and, above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes" (Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Irish Bishops, 28 October 2006).

Continuing the work undertaken by his predecessors, and having heard the advice of a number of Cardinals, other members of the College of Bishops, and experts in the field, and having duly deliberated, Pope Francis now is forming a Commission for the safeguarding of minors.

Pope Francis has made clear that the Church must hold the protection of minors amongst Her highest priorities. Today, to carry forward this initiative, the Holy Father announces the names of several highly qualified persons who are committed to this issue.

This initial group is now called to work expeditiously to assist in several tasks, including: participating in the deliberations concerning the Commission’s final structure; describing the scope of its responsibilities; and developing the names of additional candidates, especially from other continents and countries, who can offer service to the Commission.

Certain that the Church has a critical role to play in this field, and looking to the future without forgetting the past, the Commission will take a multi-pronged approach to promoting youth protection, including: education regarding the exploitation of children; discipline of offenders; civil and canonical duties and responsibilities; and the development of best practices as they have emerged in society at large.

In this way, and with the help of God, this Commission will contribute to the Holy Father’s mission of upholding the sacred responsibility of ensuring the safety of young people.”